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The Red Pen Rule for Marketing Copy

Not getting the sales you expect? Maybe you’re saying too much.

Susan Gunelius

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There are more benefits to keeping your marketing copy short and sweet than simply saving ad space. Clear and concise messages stand a better chance of being read or heard in their entirety versus long-winded messages weighed down with filler words and extraneous information consumers don’t care about. Fortunately, there is a tool you can use to make sure your marketing copy is succinct, and consumers actually receive your most important messages – the messages that will lead them to action. I call it the ‘red pen rule.’

The Red Pen Rule

Once you have written final marketing copy that you feel is tight and compelling take out a red pen and delete at least 30% of it. Your copy will be better off without those extra words.

Once you apply the red pen rule to your copy, your most important messages will jump off the page. Consumers will be more intrigued, and more of them will actually make it through your marketing piece and reach your call to action. That 30% you deleted would have slowed your audience down. Consumers are used to immediate gratification, and they’re not willing to wait an extra second to process information that isn’t instantly useful or interesting to them. Don’t give them a chance to tune your message out. Keep in mind, the red pen rule is not an edict – 30% is more of a suggested guideline than a rule. The key is to delete more than a couple of words here and there.

Test It and See for Yourself

You can test the results of the red pen rule by choosing a marketing piece to use as a test subject and creating two versions of it – one before and one after the rule has been applied. Show both versions to friends, family, current customers and colleagues to get their reactions. You can also run live tests where you place both versions of your copy into the market and compare the response rates to both versions.

The Red Pen Rule in Action

1. Online Banner Ad
Before: You can grow your business and increase sales with a risk-free trial of our award-winning email marketing programme

After: Increase sales with a FREE email marketing trial. The after copy says the same thing as the before copy, but it’s more concise, gets the message across faster and more clearly and it leaves out the extraneous detail about the programme being ‘award-winning.’

2. Email Marketing Subject Line
Before: Get 5%, 10% or 20% off Your Purchase When You Come to Scent of Heaven to Preview our New Line of Fragrances

After: Get up to 20% off at the Scent of Heaven New Fragrance Preview. In this example, I simply cut filler words and extraneous details that don’t add to the effectiveness of the copy. The new copy is easier to read in an email subject line, and it’s more compelling. Bottom line, you don’t ever want consumers to read or listen to your ad or marketing piece and think, “Hurry up and get to the point.” Instead, keep your messages short, sweet and succinct, and your results will prove that the red pen rule works.

With nearly 20 years of marketing, branding and copywriting experience, Susan Gunelius is also an entrepreneur.

Advertising

Consumers Don’t Have An Attention Problem. It’s Just That Your Advertising Isn’t Very Good

With so much media available to consume, quality matters more than ever for ads.

Brendan Gahan

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If a brand releases an ad and no one sees it, is it still called “advertising”?

People have more tools than ever before to skip out on ads entirely. More than three-fourths of the people in North America engage in automated ad-blocking, and 10 percent of them block ads across four kinds of media or more, according to Deloitte. Much like the question of trees falling in forests, what good is a brand’s message at a time when people generally don’t want to hear its sound?

Ad units are shrinking in the wake of ad-blocking technology, but human attention span remains unchanged. Today’s consumers are surely more distracted than any previous generation, so they guard their attention spans more mercilessly. When advertisers can successfully command that attention for a minute or two, it means the consumer is watching an ad for the same reason he or she binge-watches Stranger Things on Netflix: The ad has managed to present itself as relevant or vital to the viewer. It wins every time.

Just 10 years ago, Gillette dominated the razor blade market. Its ads were comfortable, predictable 30-second units that reminded everyone of something they already knew: You need razor blades on the regular, so you might as well buy Gillette.

Related: Advertising Consulting Business Plan

But, the market had to reorganise itself with the appearance of Dollar Shave Club and its distinctly off-the-wall messaging. The notorious startup used quirky 90-second ads to spread its word online, presenting itself as unignorable by comparison to the competition. Even though we live in a time when people can skip ads, block ads and avoid ads, Dollar Shave Club’s marketing won major viral attention. It didn’t exactly kill Gillette’s Goliath, but it sure made Goliath sweat.

The lesson here is that people don’t hate all ads, they just hate the crappy ones. The bar for perceived quality in advertising is so low these days that many choose not to engage with anything on principle alone. People even close web pages they want to visit when the page auto-plays a video ad. When job number one of the advertiser is to interest consumers, it’s never been easier to annoy them.

Far from the rise of the six-second ad unit, there’s strong evidence that people generally want long-form content.

Ooyala reports that long-form video content consumption is up 30 percent from last year. Instagram used to be all about sharing individual photos and short videos, but now with the launch of IGTV supports 60-minute videos. The most widely subscribed YouTuber, PewDiePie, regularly posts 20-minute-long videos to a community of millions of fans. Joe Rogan’s podcast blends comedy, politics and philosophy for two to three hours at a stretch, and is one of the most popular podcasts on the internet.

People can, of course, handle stories and follow them over time. It’s one of the defining characteristics of humanity. But, there are so many stories competing for our attention nowadays that we are extremely selective about which ones we let into our lives. If any of these opt-in narratives will come from advertising, those ads must first run the ad-blocking gauntlet, then be immediately relevant and spectacular to the consumer upon arrival. The bar for perceived quality in advertising these days is actually quite high.

Related: 9 Strategies For Memorable Advertising When Your Audience Is Chronically Distracted

But, there is meaningful assistance on your way to clearing it. Social listening tools trawl the internet to learn what’s being said about and around different brands. With help from a company specialising in consumer insights and some Nielsen data, brands can better learn who their customers are, what they love and what they don’t love. This is key information in designing a vital, relevant message. In simplest terms, a brand must know its audience. The marketing needs to reflect what the audience is interested in, not what company leadership is interested in.

From there it’s only a matter of iterating and optimising. The great thing about digital advertising is that you get feedback instantly. You can iterate a campaign to make it better. Simple tweaks in copy, reframing key ideas and A/B testing can help make your campaign truly great.

Otherwise you run the risk of a mediocre campaign and a wasted media spend. No one wants to hear that sound.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Advertising

6 False Advertising Scandals You Can Learn From

Don’t stretch the truth the way Volkswagen, New Balance, Airborne, Splenda, Rice Krispies and Red Bull did.

Jayson Demers

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New entrepreneurs are often tempted to exaggerate what new products or services are capable of. No wonder: Presented to a powerful investor, a stretch of the truth just might help land that series A funding.

And, less seriously, a bit of marketing flair or showmanship, in many cases, will help an entrepreneur accomplish his or her without many repercussions.

But, in other cases, if you’re that entrepreneur who is caught deliberately misleading investors or consumers, you could face false advertising charges – and the ruin of your brand’s reputation. Consider these six examples:

  1. Airborne
  2. Splenda
  3. New Balance
  4. Rice Krispies
  5. Volkswagen
  6. Red Bull
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Advertising

Forget Everything You’ve Heard — Fear Doesn’t Sell

If consumers associate your product with fear, they may not have a strong connection to your brand.

Scott Brown

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Sixty percent of Subaru owners have dogs. So in 2008, when the company decided to sponsor Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl, it made a major break from previous advertising campaigns — ones that showed drivers with other cars getting stuck in the snow, for example. Alongside a pledge to donate $250 to charity for every car sold, the company began to understand how to appeal to its core audience through their own interests — and how those tied together in a Subaru.

Since 2008, the company has been running a campaign called “Love,” one that brings together all the attributes that Subaru is known for — including safety and reliability. Instead of talking to customers by telling them all the bad things that will happen if they don’t drive a Subaru (e.g., getting stuck in the snow), the company began speaking in a more positive language — including bringing furry friends along on drives.

For many, the instinctive approach toward marketing is to tell an audience why they have to buy your product. Bad things will happen otherwise, and yours is the best in market. The others won’t help you reach your goal. The problem with that logic is that it doesn’t take into account the impact of brand image on product marketing. Sure, you might skid in the snow without a Subaru, but you need to think positively of the company as a whole if you’re going to be drawn to its products in the first place.

Related: How do I know that my product is market-ready?

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